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Felder Focus: A Different Playoff Feeling


Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

So here we sit hockey fans. On the eve of the 2012 NHL Playoffs. For Nashville Predators fans it certainly has a different feeling. They have seen their team play the role of favorite before, but not like this. They’ve even seen this same opponent in the 1st round, but not quite this way either. This season, this team, this time, it just feels…. different.

For the first time Nashville finished the regular season ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. Not only that, they are favored to win the series by the majority of prognosticators. To take it a step further, there is even about half of the Stanley Cup predictions including the Preds. Talk about pressure. The Predators have never played such a prominent role in post-season predictions. Like I’ve said though, this year is different.

It’s a new season for Nashville and quite frankly it is the most important playoffs this franchise has ever participated in. There are a variety of reasons including the pressure of such high expectations I mentioned above. This season the Preds have certainly gone “All In” when it comes to personnel and their commitment to winning in the 2011-2012 season. It’s a high risk and high reward situation. The risks have been chronicled before:

– Ryan Suter is an UFA at the end of the year. He needs to see the commitment to winning to re-sign.

– Shea Weber will have contract negotiations in the near future as well and wants to see the same commitment to winning.

– The Preds went for it at the Trade Deadline bringing in Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad. Couple that with the earlier trade for Hal Gill and they gave up quite a few draft picks to make this season a very fruitful one.

– Then the cherry on top, a move that I longed for finally came true, as Alexander Radulov returned to the NHL. The risk of course is that after this post-season Radu is gone, either back to the KHL or to another team.

When you look at the moves made, the future for Nashville is unknown with all of those players, but the fact remains it’s not about the future season, it’s about now. There really is no time like the present for this organization. Those players can bring in quite the reward for all that risk…. the ultimate goal for every NHL team.

Of course expectations have a price. If things don’t quite go according to plan in the 1st or 2nd rounds then this could potentially be an even more explosive off-season than previously thought. Player movement, maybe even coaches…. Expectations that are rooted in reality have a price no matter which franchise you are. They’ll cross that bridge if they get to that path though. I don’t expect to see it however.

So a lot is at stake but it all starts with the First Round against the #5 Detroit Red Wings. Quite the familiar foe for the Preds. A rivalry born early in the days of Music City hockey that will likely reach fever pitch over the next week and a half. Detroit fans may claim they don’t see this as a rivalry, but they soon will.

The saying goes the “3rd time is a charm” but if you are a Predators fan you should not be hoping for charms and luck. This Nashville team SHOULD beat Detroit. The expectation SHOULD be to win this series. Will it be easy? Of course not. You don’t reach the post-season this many consecutive times by being an easy out and the Red Wings are NOT easy to put away. They have depth, they have skill, they have history. Nothing will be easy to overcome when it comes to the Winged Wheel. There’s a great opportunity out there though.

This First Round should be seen as the ultimate test for Nashville. They can take so many steps forward as a franchise in this series alone. They can continue to push away the First Round exit tag they’ve had in the past. They can further instill confidence in their fans by winning another playoff road game (or two, or three, etc…) and diminish the aura the Wings have created at the Joe this year. They can prove to the world that they do in fact have a killer instinct. They can prove to the NHL that playing favorite is something they can handle. They can quite simply establish themselves as a team to alway take notice of in the NHL.

There is a lot at stake in any 1st Round series, but as I keep saying over and over, this one is different. Quite honestly, if Nashville can win this First Round I think they are on their way to being the toughest team to beat 4 times out of 7 games in the West. I’ve never gone on record as saying the Preds are a Cup contender in the past. This year, they should be in the Western Conference Final at least. There has never been this much depth, talent, and balance on a Nashville team going into the post-season. The expectations are real, they are earned, and they fit for this team. They could be Cup bound as long as they find a way to get past that rival team from Mo-town.

It will take confidence, it will take determination, it will take risk, it will take a different approach then ever before. At the end of the day though, as always, it will take what Barry Trotz calls the Predator Way. The right moves whether it be strategy or the roster each night is key. You have a team visiting your barn for the first 2 games. Take full advantage. Don’t sit back. Attack. Detroit has been dealing with injuries, some say they may not have as much in the tank. Don’t give them a chance to feel confident, to feel like this is the same story as before. Never give them a series lead. Do this, and you will have proven why your team is the team to beat. The rest of the West will fear you. It sounds simple, it’s not. It takes a full effort. 60 minutes, maybe more.

The Predators have built up quite a season and expectations heading into the playoffs. I feel this could be quite the year for Nashville and its’ fans. The Preds could win this series in 5 games if they really get out of the gates hot. That said, my prediction is that Nashville will win in 6 games, including an OT thriller up in Detroit at some point. When you get down to it, the Predators simply can’t afford to lose this series. They know it and my gut tells me they will show it throughout the games. It should be quite a fun ride my friends.

So here we sit. Waiting, anticipating, debating, contemplating, and prognosticating. It’s a different feeling for Nashville. I don’t know about you, but I have quite a good feeling about all this. I just can’t wait to see what could and should be the most important post-season in Predators history begin….

Are you ready for 7:07 pm Wednesday yet?